Longform

Occupy Miami descends into drugs and chaos in an Overtown apartment building

Page 5 of 7

Odho says her problems with Paz began long before Occupy Miami, back when he was still Rodrigo Duque. "He's a slumlord," she says. "He was then and he is today. It's as simple as that."

When she moved into the apartment building in 2009, Odho says, she was recovering from kidney cancer, showing off a long ugly scar to prove it. A county program gave Paz thousands to help Odho move in on the condition that he renovate her apartment. But he refused to clean up the moldy bathroom or leaky ceiling, she says. "He stole that money."

Code enforcement records indeed show eight outstanding violations and six past violations dating back to when Paz's father bought the place. Odho now fears that the entire building will soon be condemned. Miami police have told her and her neighbors to put their rent into an escrow account until Paz allows them out of their leases. But Odho can't afford to lose her security deposit. "This is my home," she says. "Why should I have to move out?"

Paz disputes Odho's claims. "They say they are going to attack my pocket and bring me down," he says, laughing at the idea. "It's a cleansing process. We are getting rid of the nonpeaceful people. There are people here who are involved in dark businesses like prostitution and drugs. We are bringing them into the light."

Odho has, in fact, been convicted of misdemeanor prostitution; her neck tattoo reads, "Property of Sir John A. Acosta." And her boyfriend, Azcurra, has been convicted of selling marijuana and charged with crimes including burglary and battery.

But police records also show that Occupy Overtown is fomenting, not fighting, violence and crime. Cops have responded to the building 18 times in the month and a half since the occupiers arrived, compared to only a handful of times in the previous months. Ten of those were for "criminal mischief."

Sometimes the crimes are more violent. On February 15, half a dozen Occupy Miami members were watching a movie in Freddy Diaz's apartment when an argument began. A hard-drinking construction worker named Johnny kept interrupting the movie. When a former Marine named Fernando told him to shut up, Johnny punched the veteran in the face.

Fernando returned five minutes later with a metal pipe. "You've got to respect me," he shouted while bashing open Johnny's head.

"He beat the hell out of him," Diaz says. But when the cops arrived, everyone in the building scattered. Johnny spent several days bleeding in the medic's office. ("He probably needed stitches," Steve says with a chuckle. "But we told him: 'Nah, man, you look good!'")

It was a glaring instance of Paz's one rule being flagrantly broken. The occupiers quickly voted the two men out of the building, to no avail. "They apologized the next day," Paz says. "They had violent thoughts, but we chased those thoughts away."

Without any rules, violence and suspicion are rampant. Luis, the former Occupy Miami security guard, suspects his fellow protesters of stealing thousands of dollars in donations. When Uguccioni, one of five occupiers who founded a nonprofit to accept donations, tells him that she has never received any money, he flips out.

"Where's the money?" he yells. "Somebody is pocketing the cash. There should be no corruption inside Occupy Miami. We are supposed to be for the people, not stealing from the people. Some of these people are becoming the 1 percent."

"I can't stand to hear people talk badly about other occupiers," Uguccioni says.

"There are bad occupiers here!" Luis shouts. (Later, Uguccioni tells New Times that she has been afraid of Luis since he worked security at the Government Center camp. "I saw him walk off with people, claiming he wanted to just talk to them," she says. "But both times they ended up with stitches.")

The chaos at Peace City is splintering the movement in other ways too. Some Occupy Miami members who don't live at the camp would like to see it shut down.

When New Times first arrived at the apartment building in early February, some protesters argued the Overtown occupation wasn't an "official" part of the movement. "Occupy Miami is in a transition phase right now," said John Noone, a clean-cut activist who runs a pet-sitting business.

Two weeks later, however, several dozen Occupy Miami members met in Bayfront Park and made it official. In the shadow of the extinguished Torch of Freedom, they voted unanimously to recognize the apartment squatters as a "working group." "This will stop the infighting online by recognizing that it's part of Occupy Miami," Kevin Young, an occupier who led the meeting, said at the time.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.